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  CNN    CNN Newsroom    News/Business. Latest on the day's top news stories  
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    August 31, 2013
    10:00 - 11:01am PDT  

10:00am
i'm wolf blitzer in washington. we want to welcome our viewers in the united states and around the world to our special coverage this hour of the crisis in syria. president obama's about to make a major statement when it comes to syria. we expect him to be in the white house rose garden. there you see live picture frs the rose garden in about 15 minutes or so. we're told the statement will not necessarily suggest an imminent u.s. military strike, but rather an update about his decisions on how to proceed in
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syria. he's been meeting all morning with his top national security advisers at the white house. all this came earlier in the day, the signals were clearly there, even yesterday, officials started arriving at the white house today to go in the situation room, including the vice president, the secretary of defense, chuck hagel, the secretary of state, john kerry. the national security adviser to the president. the top military commanders as well. they've been meeting in the white house. there you see general martin dempsey. the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. there's a tense calm that has fallen across syria as a possible u.s. military strike looms. bill neily has been in the capital city of damascus. we expect in a few minutes to hear from the commander in chief, the president of the united states. i assume they're bracing for some sort of u.s. military strike, whether it happens in a few hours or days.
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>> yes, they really are. it's definitely tense here. i wouldn't say there's a sense of panic, but clear apprehensi n apprehension. the u.n. weapons inspectors left, they're now in the netherlands. america has released its intelligence dossier. i think people here can also read the signs, the signal, that could mean, all of that means an attack is imminent. people have been stockpiling food. i was add a bread shop this afternoon. government owned bakeries are going to be open 24 hours a day. people are really worried about the risks involved to them. there could be no matter how technologically advanced america is, there might be a missile that would hit a chemical weapons depo and spread poisoned
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gas across the city. so, people definitely worried and braced. >> is there any clear indication, assuming this is a significant military strike and u.s. officials are making it clear it will happen sooner rather than later, is there an indication of how the syrian government of president assad and his military commanders as well as their allies in hezbollah, lebanon and the iranian might respond? >> well, the only statement that the government has released from one official said we are expecting an attack at any moment. we are ready to retaliate. any moment. now, there was no elaboration. i certainly did not see any signs from syria's army or anyone else that retaliation was imminent and remember, there have been a couple of israeli strikes on syrian facilities here on convoys of weapons allegedly as far as the israelis are concerned and there was no direct retaliation from the
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syrians for those attacks, so many people including some analysts here are saying they don't expect any retaliation, but of course, on the streets, that's not what you hear people are saying, we will be defiant, we will strike back and we know that syria has allies in iran. in hezbollah. that are quite capable of doing something like that. one interesting point, wolf, we've had silence from president assad for the last couple of days, but i did see today an iranian delegation, which is said to include their security chief, as well as their ambassador to syria, that said they had just met president assad. why were they meeting president assad? we don't know and certainly, they weren't telling us. >> bill, i want you to stand by in damascus. bill is one of the few western journalists in the syrian capital right now. we're going to touch base with him throughout our special live coverage here on cnn. be careful over there, bill, we'll be joining you shortly.
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we will want to get syrian reaction immediately after we hear from president obama. once again, he's expected to speak in about ten minutes or so. we'll have live coverage as soon as he goes into the rose garden. jim acosta is over at the white house. he's our chief, our senior white house correspondent. it's been a busy morning. the president's been meeting with his top national security adviser, jim, but doesn't it look like this is what we anticipate as an address to the nation that military action has already started. this is still in advance of that, is that right? >> that's right. i did receive word that this will not be about commenced military operations nor is this about imminent military operations. this is going to be about the way forward for this president and a lot of this is vague and it's going to raise a lot of questions until the president comes out and you mentioned it is not an address to the nation,
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but with so many focused on what the president is saying and doing right now, i think it stands to reason that much of the world will be watching what the president does within the next hour. you mentioned some of the meetings going on over here at the white house. vice president joe biden is here at the white house. chuck hagel, the chairman of the joint chief, martin dempsey, so all of that giving an indication that the president is close to making a decision, but because white house officials are saying this is not about imminent or commenced operations, perhaps we will be hearing about something else. we should also note this administration was set to start briefing members of the senate today, members of the house tomorrow, to fully get them up to speed on what is happen ng syria and so, it will be interesting to find out whether or not the president's comments have any impact. the other thing we should point out and this is just a small, minor thing, is that according to a note distributed to
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reporters here at the white house, a telepromter has been set up in the rose garen for the president's address. i only say that because yesterday, his comments were very much off the cuff. he had some notes in front of him, but he was not reading from prepared remarks, but this statement indicates that perhaps he will be doing that this afternoon. >> and it comes on the heels of 24 hours ago, the secretary of state had a very detailed 20-minute speech that he delivered, outlining the u.s. evidence that the syrian government of president bashar al assad did in fact use chemical warfare against its own people, killing more than 140 y civilians. the president's got one other issue on his agenda. a trip to sweden, then st. petersburg, russia, for the g-20 summit. thursday and friday. how does that fit in to a
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timeline for military action? >> there was a lot of guessing going on over here at the white house. and maybe not all of it educated that because the u.n. weapons inspectors were leaving today that a window of opportunity had opened up for this president, early part of next week, we believe tuesday evening, and so, there was a lot of presuming going on that perhaps that was his window of opportunity. we'll have to find out whether or not the president sheds any light on that, but obviously, there are some big implications for that g-20 trip. it is hosted by russia, by vladimir putin. the white house had a background call with reporters yesterday explaining that the president will not be having any kind of bilateral meeting with president putin. another indication once again of the strained relations between president obama and president putin. as we know, the white house, the state department, have all complained out loud this week,
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not hiding their frustrations, that they believe that vladimir putin really city mied them at the united nations security counsel, really blocked the united states for getting any kind of mandate in syria. all that is going to be a part of the action this week when the president goes to russia. you have to think at some point, he'll be face to face with putin when they pose for those pictures, but all of this making this a complicated decision for the president. >> jim, stand by. within five minutes, if the president's on time, he'll be walking down those stairs from the oval office into the rose garden to make this address and as you point out, carefully calibrated address indeed. barbara starr's at the pentagon. once that so call execute order is signed by the xand commander in chief, it won't take long for u.s. destroyers, warships in the eastern mediterranean and submarines presumably, to launch
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tomahawk cruise missiles, will it? >> it will not. got an update in the last few minutes from military officials. they say they are ready to strike as soon as the president signs that execute order, it will come over to the pentagon, go out to the fleet, but the reality, the bottom line reality is those five warships have their targets, once approved, once ordered, they can fire very quickly and these are of course precision missiles. they are guideded to their targets by gps coordinates. very important because of course, the u.s. wants to avoid civilian casualties. always a major concern and that is why we all believe if this strike were to happen, it would happen in the overnight hours in syria, less people out on the street, less chance of civilians being hurt. that is going to be a major issue for the president. he is not going to want to be seen as a military commander who has caused another round of
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civilian kazcasualties in the middle east. so, tomahawk missile, really truly in this case, the weapon of choice, but of course, very limited in na what they can do. this is not going to be regime change. this is not likely by the administration's own account, to change the assad regime's behavi behavior. it's going to send a message. we'll see if that works. >> thanks to the russians, they have a pretty robust air defense capability, so i take it the u.s. air force, navy, not necessarily inclineded to start flying over syrian air space with f-16s or 15s or other jet fighters that could endanger u.s. pilots. i assume that's the case, but you know better than i do. >> you're absolutely right, of course. and again, this is why you're seeing tomahawk cruise missiles. very precision thousand pound warhead, but no pilot because of course, the risk of being shot
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down, of a u.s. pilot being shot down is a risk the u.s. is not willing to take in this case. you might ask, we've seen several israeli air strikes into syria to stop their weapons from being transferred to hezbollah, for example. manned israeli aircraft. the israelis have quite a different view in this region. they believe stopping syria, stopping hezbollah is a matter of national survival for them. the u.s. has a different construct. the strategic interest in this strike will be to send a message, a military message to not use chemical weapons and to send a message to the rest of the world, countries like north korea, that the use of gas weapons will not be tolerated, but again, it's a message and there is a lot of doubt on capitol hill and in other places whether this is going to be a
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game changer. >> about two minutes away from the president if he's on schedule. want to go to the united nations. nick peyton wash is standing by. we heard from the spokesman where ban ki-moon, another strong appeal to the united states directly to president obama, do not use military force unless there's authorization from the united nations security counsel and as you know, there is none. >> absolutely, when pressed on ban ki-moon's position on whether or not to strike without a resolution, the spokesman said secretary general considers the u.n. charter to be paramount and that should be upheld. let me break down what we did hear in that briefing because potentially, given this address we're about to hear, is unlikely to announce imminent military action. the process happening here at the united nations perhaps with the inspectors becomes more
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relevant as the timing of a u.s. stri strike. martin did say the inspectors had gathered adequate material. they are heading to the hague in the netherlands where testing will most likely begin tomorrow. he also refers to how a number of of interviews needed to be translated from witnesses and survivors and that would be put into a report handed to the secretary general. he kept reassuring people asking him that the secretary general was doing all he could to make sure this process was expedited as quickly as possible because all eyes are on whether these results show chemical weapons were used inside syria. we don't know how long this could take. we've asked one separate expert and their belief is that you're probably looking at about a week because these samples contain dirt, they have to be broken down. you have to measure an identify separate atoms within that
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sample and that takes a machine called spectometer. we are looking at a much lengthier process here if it is the case that we are waiting for the results from the u.n. inspectors to perhaps ease international opinion to the point where barack obama wants to make his decision. another key point, he said we still have 1,000 on the ground in syria working for the world food program, un receive, the children eers part of the program, so he made an appeal that their lives should be respected and no bombings should take place. >> it's one other interesting point, i think potentially a very significant out there as we await the president. he'll be in the white house rose garden to make a statement on the situation in syria. the basically, the u.s. officials, the secretary of state pretty bluntly yesterday,
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he dismissed this u.n. report saying when ever they come up with we know the answer chemical weapons were used and since the inspectors do not have a mandate to determine who actually launched those weapon, who cares what these guys think? that was basically i'm obviously paraphrasing, what the secretary of state had the to say, but he basically dismissed their report as meaningless since the u.s. has already concluded with quote, high confidence, that chemical weapons were used. >> they've competed way more than the u.n. inspectors will have to determine. he said it was an incapacity of the u.n.'s action simply because of the russian veto. i'm not suggesting they'll dictate u.s. policy, but it appears to be a slowing in the u.s. timeline is not to announce some sort of military action and that presumably is because u.s. domestic and international public opinion, a desire to have to have a greater burden of
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evidence or greater explanation as to how the u.s. came to its decision, so it may be that part of that is to allow the u.n. to complete their work. that's what some senior democrats have been saying and perhaps something that barack obama at the moment and perhaps, too, he doesn't want to attend the g-20 when he's taking this decision, so many other members of the g-20 saying they would like to hear what the u.n. inspectors have to say. that is the u.k.'s decision, they were -- voted against any kind of involvement in that, wolf. >> the british clearly not going to participate militarily with their closest ally, the united states, on this effort. let's see what some others including france, have decided to do and i'll be anxious to hear what some of the arab and muslim friends of the united states, turkey, saudi arabia, will they be militarily involved or cheering the u.s. on from the
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sidelines. important questions to ask fred. he's joining us from beirut right now, monitoring the situation. he was in damascus for several days. do they feel totally isolated, the regime of president assad? other than hezbollah and iran, maybe some support from the iraqi government of neuroy al maliki, but do they otherwise feel isolated in damascus, fred? >> i don't think they feel isolated. one partner they say they still have is russia and it seems at this point in time, wolf, russia seems to have assad's back, if you will, when it comes to the u.n. security counsel, when it comes to putin's public statements when he's saying the evidence that the united states put forward, were appalling, they didn't amount to any evidence at all, so it seems the russians are the partner that the syrian government is relying
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on at this point in time. i go back to a speech, a foreign minister of russia gave a couple of days ago where he said that the relations between russia and syria were ones that were very strong, tight and helping the syrians at this point in time, so they don't feel totally isolated, but of course, at the same time, they have large parts of the international community against them and if you look in this region, for instance, and especially the neighboring country, you have jordan, a key ally of the u.s. turkey also allowing rebels to go back and forth through its borders and has come out very strong in the picture of the prime minister there, condemning these alleged attacks saying they believe assad is responsible for them and calling for a more robust response from the united states than the one on the table. they want a lot more than these limited military strikes. the saudis have come out and
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done the same. the big question of course is are any of these countries going to be at the side of the u.s. militarily. it doesn't look as though that is the case. it's also very difficult for many of them to take military action at the side of the u.s., but certainly, publicly, the statements that we're getting from the saudis, from the turks, that wholeheartedly support u.s. action and want it to be a lot stronger than what the president said it's going to be, but at the same time, assad is being held alive by key allies that he has. the russians are very key to that. the iranian are very key where we've heard there's been meetings from bill, with the iranian military advisers there on the ground. they've seen the assad regime today, so that's very, very key. as far as weapons delivery, then you have hezbollah that's provided thousands of fighters on the ground that have really in many places in syria, if you look at homs, have turned the
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tide on the battlefield, where they put their fighters on the ground who have a lot of knowledge as far as urban combat is concerned and that's what's going on in many places in syria right now. >> i'm going to get back to you. just one correction. the foreign minister of syria, not russia, brief ly -- someone who is well-known here in washington. the former syrian ambassador to the united states. obviously, someone who fully appreciates what's going on in washington, top adviser to the syrian president, bashar al assad. let's bring gloria borger in as we await the president. he's going to be walking out of the oval office to the left of the screen. walk down those stairs. i assume you will see behind him some of his top national security advisers, including the vice president, probably the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, chairman of the joint chiefs. they've all been in the situation room at the white house reviewing various military options. but even as he's come under pressure from united nations not
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to launch a military strike, some allies in europe and elsewhere, there's a lot of pressure coming from congress as well. don't do it so quickly yet, mr. president. not just from republicans, but from some leading democrats. >> when you look at this, there is some exquisite irony here. when you look at this entire team. president obama, joe biden, kerry, hagel, these are all people who in the united states senate, rose to some prominence, particularly the president himself, by saying don't go it alone. you need the american public with you. you need the united nations with you. and of course, the president's cynicism and skepticism about the iraq war was part of his political calculation as he became president of the united states. so, imagine this national security team and again, a lot of them are new to this job. kerry, new, hagel, new, for example. sitting there and deciding whether they in fact are going to go it alone without the
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security counsel. and without great britain, without the allies they would like to have and you know, a president at this time has to seem resolute, absolutely sure of what he is about to do. it seems to me in watching them over this past week, they've been spending an awful lot of time talking about i understand how you're border weary, your concerns because they've been there, but if the president comes out today and gives the american people an update on where we are, i think he has to seem resolute and assured in what he's about to do. >> what could he could do now and i have no idea if he's going to do this, but just based on previous experience, what he could do potentially go out there and say, i'm addressing the syrian leadership right now. the syrian president bashar al assad. we're ready to launch military strikes, but you have one more
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chance to do the right thing. he could then lay out a series of steps. he would demand from the syrian regime before the u.s. were to do that. that's what george w. bush did before launching the invasion of iraq and saddam hussein gave him one last chance to do the right thing. refused and as a result, the war in iraq started. presummer bly, could give assad one last chance to avert u.s. military action. >> he could and kerry in his statement the other day, also spoke of the possibility of some point of some kind of negotiated settlement and this may be the president's sort of last moment. he says it's either now or never and he could in fact be doing that right now publicly before he decides to take any kind of military action. >> because yesterday pointedly, s
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secretary of state, john kerry, he didn't issue any kind of formal demand. he laid out all the u.s. evidence. the u.s. has concluded with quote, high confidence, that the iraqi government used chemical weapons to kill more than 1,400 people and wound thousands of others, but he didn't say directly to the regime in damascus, here is what you must do to calm this situation down. >> and what john kerry did say is the question is no longer when we know. he said the question is what are we collectively in the world going to do about it. and i think that's the question. the answer to that question is what the american people at some point need to hear from the president. >> he's running a few minutes late, the president, which is not a surprise. this is a critically important speech. he knows he will not only be addressing the american public, but the world and he knows that the leadership including bashar al assad in damascus, they will be watching as well. if they're watching cnn international, they're watching us right now. pretty soon, they'll see the president behind that microphone. let's see if he does deliver a
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direct message to the syrian government. we know that the secretary of state, john kerry, did phone the foreign minister of syria last week. that conversation obviously not a very good one. all right, so we should be getting a two-minute warning fairly soon. we see an aide to the president getting ready. maybe bringing some water over there or whatever, but let's duoto cnn's senior international correspondent, ivan watson. he's in turry on the border with syria. is there any indication turkey is ready to join the u.s. potentially in military action and not just cheer from the sideline, but get involved militarily in punishing the syrian regime? >> well, the turkish government wants an intervention. it's made that very clear, led by the u.s. and if anything, the prime minister last night was quoted by turkish journalists saying he doesn't want just a one to two-day u.s.-led military operation, he wants something
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bigger on the scale of the u.s.-led operation in kosovo in the late '90s that drove the serbian military out of there and that of course is something we haven't been hear frg the obama administration, which has been making clear it does not want boots on the ground in syria. now, turkish officials telling me they have offered things like turkish air space, perhaps refuelling, but at this point, the u.s. has not accepted any of those offers coming from the turks. turkey being a nato ally. the turks are the biggest opponents right now. some of the most vocal opponents of the syrian president al assad over the course of the last two years and some of the most overt supporters of the syrian rebels. some of these rank and file rebels that i've been talking to, they were telling me today, wolf, they want the u.s. to
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attack bashar al assad. though some of them are concerned that he may try to take this opportunity to also attack some al-qaeda linked rebels who have grown if size and in scope and in numbers, particularly in opposition held northern syria. wolf? >> and this is a huge dilemma for the u.s. right now. they know if they punish the regime of assad, his military, one of the winners potentially could be some of those al-qaeda supporters among the opposition. the rebels. some of those islamist groups that the u.s. has identified as al-qaeda purposes. not the free syrian, army, which is much more acceptable to the u.s. and turkey and to others, but that al-qaeda element. how significant is that element among the opposition to assad?
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>> these hard line islamists groups like the mush rough front have grown from small groups that in some cases in some areas, they have completely eclipsed what was the free syrian army a year and a year and a half ago. it's gotten to such an extreme, there are former syrian government soldiers who defected in the early days of this uprising and who joined the opposition and are now too afraid to go back into syria, telling me they are afraid of these al-qaeda linked and al-qaeda inspired groups. of course, there are some people who defend these hard line islamist group, saying they're the only ones with the military prowess and determination and the money and the guns to really
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stand up to bashar al assad's army, so it is quite a dilemma right now and certainly journalists like myself, cannot travel as freely inside opposition held syria has we could have even done six months ago because the kidnapping has gotten so bad from some of these opposition groups from some of these al-qaeda linked groups, so this armed opposition, particularly in the north of syria, has really evolveded and changed into something very different within the last year alone here. many secular activists will argue it's because the western governments did not intervene, did not support them. that the islamists and radical islamists have gotten so powerful and strong in opposition held syria. >> that's why a lot of those opposition, those opposition leader rs so disappointed in the united states. they tend to blame the u.s. for not doing enough over the past two and a half years.
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giving time to other islamists pro al-qaeda almosts to gain that strength. back to ivan watson on the border with syria, but i want to bring in atika. let me just reset the scene at the bottom of the hour right now. we're waiting for the president of the united states all morning, he's been in the white house swaigs room meeting with his top national security advisers, including the vice president, the secretaries of state and defense. the chairman of the joint chiefs. the national security adviser, all of others, they've been going through various military options, diplomatic options and now, the president is going to be walking into the rose garden. he was supposed to come in about 15 minutes ago. he's running a few minutes late, which is totally understandable given the stakes involve. i know there is huge disappointment here in washington within the obama administration that david cameron, the british prime fin center, could not get the house of commons, parliament, on board
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to support the u.s. as far as a military strike was concerned. what's been the reaction in london, in great britain, over these past 48 hours since david cameron suffered that truly embarra embarrassing setback in parliament? >> there's been a lot of soul searching. all the headlines in all the papers have said what happened to the special relationship between britain and the united states? that vote was really unpreced t unpreceden unprecedenunpreceden unprecedented. as far back as anybody can remember, britain has really stood side by side with the united states in terms of military action, so this was not only a humiliating defeat for cameron, but really a complete change of policy in many ways for britain. a lot of soul searching in the papers here, asking did britain turn its back on syria, or as an alternative, was there not enough evidence to justify military action and this is what a lot of labor law mmakers are
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saying that the case simply had not been made. that there was not enough evidence they wanted to wait to hear from those u.n. inspectors that have left today to hear about what the evidence was and they wanted to hear from cameron, what would happen after a military strike? how would this change the situation on the ground? and because they felt they did not get those answers, they decided not to have military action. they voted against david cameron. it was a humiliating defeat, but a resounding vote from the house of commons. no doubt that britain does not wabt to take part in any military action. >> how politically damaged is david cameron as the prime minister? could he face a political setback in terms of losing control of his government? >> it's a tremendous setback and he has to reassert control
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within his own party. an estimated 30 members of his own party voted against hill on this, so, first, he needs to try to figure out what's happening within his own party members. it was a devastating blow, but probably not one that will shake the coalition. there was one call for him to resign in the midst of this very emotional vote. however, doesn't seem to be the case that it's shaken the coalition that badly, but he does have a lot of rebuilding to do. also in his relationship with president obama. >> atika, we're going to be standing by. we're awaiting the president of the united states. he's about to come into rose garden to make a statement on syria. on what u.s. options may be in syria. i'm very curious to see if he offers some sort of last ditch, 11th hour opportunity for the syrian president to do or say something that could avert a u.s. military strike which certainly does appear to be
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imminent. nick is at the united nations watching this go down. they were pretty defiant at the u.n. today. the press secretary, the spokesman for ban ki-moon, he's making it clear that unless there's a united nations mandate, unless there's a united nations security counsel authorizing the use of force, potentially, as far as the u.n. is concerned, ban ki-moon is concerned, the u.s. could be violating international law. but go ahead and explain how they justify that. >> when asked the question whether the secretary general thought whether it would be legal in some way, he didn't get a clear response to that. simply said look, the secretary underscores the importance of the u.n. charter. you can interpret that as you wish, but just hints toward a u.n. resolution. you need to get something from
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the security counsel under chapter seven in order to have an intervention like this. that's what the british tried earlier on this week. a surprise to many. many thought they were just going through the motions simply because it's open secret here. the russians will veto anything the british or the french or americans have tried to put through in regards to syria, but none the less, they went through that. of course, after parliament defeated cameron, that resolution has disappeared, frankly and the focus now is on the u.n. inspectors and their work here. the legality is such that barack obama has had plenty of legal advice about to determine what he needs to do. certainly in the united kingdom, an exhausted process here before the decision can be taken. but the real issue of course comes down to the timing of when this happens. the choreography from john kerry
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and barack obama made it pretty clear they were going to act. you were suggesting we might see an ultimatum in the coming minutes. difficult to see quite exactly he could ask the assad regime to do. inspector related pros process from the u.n., that would take months and be hard to be sure about the verification. is he going to ask them to launch negotiations with the rebel side? that's complicated, too, because the rebels have made it clear they don't want to be party to talks since that chemical weapons attack and you have to ask are the rebels able to speak with a coherent enough voice over this lengthy, brutal voice, coherent enough to enter into talks in a meaningful way, but i think there's a court of international and public opinion, too, which may be addressing, too. >> i'm sure the president would like the world to believe that the u.s. has gone through
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everything to avoid a military strike and be ready to give bashar al assad one last chance. we'll see if there's any address to the syrian leader. jim acosta is over there getting ready. it's a real dilemma the president faces, jim. on the one hand, he wants to exhaust all peaceful means. there's nothing more important for a commander in chief or a president of the united states to do than launch u.s. military power, to use military force in a hostile environment, so he wants to make sure that all options to avert that have been exhausted. on the other hand, if he delays and delays and delay, potentially, he sends a signal of weakness, especially since it was almost one year ago when he said if the syrians use chemical weapons, that is a red line which the u.s. will not accept. >> that's right, wolf, and you get the sense from the world, even from members of congress,
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that it's president obama's red line. he's going to have to enforce it. and so, i think what we're going to be hearing from the president is is really another step in that process to get to that point. just to give you a little color, the pool reporters who are going to be allowed to observe the president's remarks have reported that the president was seen in the oval office on the phone within the last 10 to 15 minutes with vice president joe biden, no word on who he was talking to or what they were talking about, but some last minute discussions going on before the president delivers these remarks an i don't know if you can hear what's going on over my shoulder, there's a fairly large antiwar protest that is going on outside the gates of the white house. people chanting obama, don't attack syria. and we're hearing from the white house pool reporters in the rose garden those chants can be heard
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inside the rose garden, so presumably, the president when he's delivering these remarks, may be able to hear those protesters, wolf. >> do you have any idea how many protesters are out this on pennsylvania avenue? >> they've been out here all week, wolf. this is a larger contingent than i've seen all week. probably about 100 in front of the gates on the north side of the white house in front of the north lawn of the white house, but in the park on the other side of pennsylvania avenue, there are dozens more. but loud enough where you can hear where we're stand iing andn the rose garden, according to those pool reporters who will be watching the president in person deliver these remarks. >> there's a picture of the protesters. there's no traffic ever since the oklahoma city bombing in the '90s, that part has been closed to traffic, but protesters, people can walk up and down outside the gates of the white house. any explanation being given why
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the president, they say 1:15. that's almost a half hour ago, why he's running late? >> no, unless one has just hit my phone in the last several minutes. but getting back to what you were saying about consultations with congress, getting congressional authorization, seeking international approval, you and i and others have been talking about this over the last several days. candidate obama when running for president in 2007 told the boston globe he did not think unilateral action unless an imminent strike was about to occur was even -- unless he had authorization from the congress and just the last week when he sat down with chris cuomo with cnn, he said international law would only be supported by some kind of international cooperation and uniteded nations support of some sort and so, this does put the president in a
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pickle because recent events, the vote at the british parliament, ooechts at the united nations, they basically put the president in a situation where he is almost all alone in having to make this decision and having to launch these strikes if that's the decision he makes here in the next several days and so, it will be interesting to watch what the president says as far as the next few steps in this process. the white house has said as we've been saying all along in the last hour or so, he's not going to be talking about an imminent strike, about any commenced strikes, but just a way forward. >> we'll see what he says. we're obviously awaiting the president to walk out of the oval office into the rose garden and address not only the american people, but the entire world including the leadership in damascus who will be watching presumably, they're watching us on cnn international right now. gloria borger is with us as we await the president.
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he mentioned jim acosta, the interview that the president a little bit more than a woke ago gave chris cuomo. i have the transcript here. he's clearly a reluctant war you and made it clear a week ago when he said if the u.s. depose in and attacks another county without a u.n. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it. do we have the coalition to make it work? and you know, those are consideration that we have to take into account. so he doesn't have a u.n. mandate. he doesn't have much of a coalition. the british government is not even on board and he doesn't have formal authorization from the house of representatives or senate. this is not something this president wanted to do when he was a candidate for president of the united states. this is something he doesn't believe in. >> he must feel like he's looking through the looking glass. what they feel they have is the evidence. you heard john kerry.
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we all got the briefing yesterday. they believe that with certainty, that they can establish a chain of custody to the assad regime for the use of these chemical weapons. what we also have is a president who drew a red line. verbally. this is his red line. and the complaints that he's getting quite frankly from members of congress is we don't want to do something because your credibility is on the line. we want to do what we believe we should do for this country and there's a lot of skepticism and an irony to this, that he can take some kind of surgical strike and accomplish anything worth accomplishing. if he slaps assad on the wrist, if you slap assad on the wrist, what does that get us? with iran, what's the lesson for iran there? what's the lesson for assad there? so, i think that you know, this is nobody could accuse this
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president, wolf, of rush iing io this. but what we have seen over the last week or so are a couple of rollouts that suddenly seem to stop. the first rollout stopped after the vote in great britain. and now, we've had this real sort of head of steam building and suddenly, all of these calls with members of congress and we'll see what the president has to say right now, as he updates the american people about what his thoughts are. >> president was supposed to be in the rose garden about 30 minutes or so again. running a bit late. we're standing by to hear what the president has to say. for viewers just tuning in,s he's been meeting all morning with his top national security adviser, including joe biden, secretaries of state and defense. the chairman of the joint chiefs, director of the cia and others going through all of the various options, all of the information and we'll get an update from the president, but i
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want to bring in dana bash right now. there's a series of briefings being laid out by the administration. declassified briefings over the phone. and classified briefings tomorrow for those members who are in washington. say most members are back in their districts or traveling or some place else during this labor day weekend, congress is not in session. do we anticipate many members coming back to washington tomorrow to have access to that classified information? >> i believe that that is entirely possible, but before we talk about the briefings, i wanted to give you a little bit of news and that is you know, we've seen a series of statements from members of congress on their view on what the president should and shouldn't do. we wrus got a statement from senator john cornyn, republican of texas, the number two republican in the united states senate who is now calling on the president to bring congress back into session and ask for a vote
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on authorization to use force before any military action is taken in syria. now, we've seen calls like this from many members of congress, over 100 democrats and republicans, but this is the highest ranking republican to do so. now, obviously, i'm not questioning his motivation, but we should always remember the context of what happens in politics. that he is somebody up for re-election. there might be lots of reasons why he's doing this, but even people who we are hear iing mor and more who fundamentally believe in the idea of holding assad accountable are now feeling more pressure to make sure that congress has a say. you saw a poll yesterday that showed a vast majority of americans want congress to have a say before military action is used and maybe this is the most prominent example. >> even the chairman of the senate armed services committee, carl levin, he issued a
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statement saying, bring congress back. let congress get fully briefed. let congress pass some sort of resolution before there is action. it's one thing for a republican critic of the president like john cornyn, who's very influential, very important, but when you get carl levin saying something similar, bring congress back, let there be a vote. there you see an aide bringing the president's statement out there. the president's going to be walking out within the next few seconds and making his statement. lots of things we should focus on. how detailed will the president be? will he review all the intelligence that john kerry laid out yesterday? will he go into more detail? will he talk about congressional authorization, the mandate resolution which the russians have repeatedly threatened to veto? is there some new language that could avert a russian veto?
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will the president go into any specifics on that? will he talk about the lack of support from britain that the british parliament refused to endorse david cameron's vote resolution authorizing to join the united states in some sort of coalition against the syrian regime and perhaps most intriguing from my per perspective, will he offer the syrian president assad one last chance to do it from his perspective, the right thing and end this conflict in this civil war in enter into negotiations. will he have a direct message to the syrian leader in these remarks that he's about to deliver? i'm sure these remarks are very, very carefully calibrated, very carefully thought through. they've been reviewing them at the white house. the president knows literally right now the whole world will be listening and watching and wondering if the u.s. launches a
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military strike against syria. and even if it's limited, even if it's short term, could that cause unintended consequences and draw the united states into a much more prolonged conflict? i know that the neighbors of syria are watching in jordan and turkey, certainly in israel they're watching very carefully in recent days. the israelis have started distributing gas masks, especially to folks in the northern part of israel. they fear retaliation not just from syria but some syrian allies including hezbollah, maybe even iran. the prime minister of israel has directly warned the syrians, if you try something, israel will retaliate with enormity. here comes the president of the united states with the vice president joe biden. >> good afternoon, everybody. ten days ago, the world watched in horror as men, women and children were massacred in syria in the worst chemical weapons
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attack of the 21st century. yesterday the united states presented a powerful case that the syrian government was responsible for this attack on its own people. our intelligence shows the assad regime and its forces preparing to use chemical weapons, launching rockets in the highly populated suburbs of damascus, and acknowledging that a chemical weapons attack took place. and all of this corroborates what the world can plainly see. hospitals overflowing with victims, terrible images of the dead, all told, well over 1,000 people were murdered. several hundred of them were children. young girls and boys gassed to death by their own government. this attack is an assault on human dignity. it also presents a serious danger to our national security.
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it risks making a mockery of the global prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. it endangers our friends and our partners along syria's borders, including israel, jordan, turkey, lebanon and iraq. it could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm. in a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted. after careful deliberation, i have decided that the united states should take military action against syrian regime targets. this would not be an open-ended intervention. we would not put boots on the ground. instead our action would be designed to be limited in duration and scope. but i'm confident we can hold the assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior and degrade their capacity to carry
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it out. our military has positioned assets in the region. the chairman of the joint chiefs has informed me that we are prepared to strike whenever we choose. moreover, the chairman has indicated to me that our capacity to execute this mission is not time sensitive. it will be effective tomorrow or next week or one month from now. and i'm prepared to give that order. but having made my decision as commander in chief based on what i am convinced is our national security interests, i'm also mindful that i'm the president of the world's oldest constitutional democracy. i've long believed that our power is rooted not just in our military might but in our example as a government of the people, by the people and for the people. and that's why i've made a second decision. i will seek authorization for
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the use of force from the american people's representatives in congress. for the last several days, we've heard from members of congress who want their voices to be heard. i absolutely agree. so this morning i spoke with all four congressional leaders, and they've agreed to schedule a debate and then a vote as soon as congress comes back into session. in the coming days, my administration stands ready to provide every member with the information they need to understand what happened in syria and why it has such profound implications for america's national security. and all of us should be accountable as we move forward, and that can only be accomplished with a vote. i'm confident in the case our government has made without waiting for u.n. inspectors. i'm comfortable going forward without the approval of a united nations security council that so far has been completely
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paralyzed and unwilling to hold assad accountable. as a consequence, many people have advised against taking this decision to congress. and undoubtedly they were impacted by what we saw happen in the united kingdom this week when the parliament of our closest ally failed to pass a resolution with a similar goal, even as the prime minister supported taking action. yet while i believe i have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, i know that the country will be stronger if we take this course and our actions will be even more effective. we should have this debate. because the issues are too big for business as usual. and this morning, john boehner, harry reid, nancy pelosi and mitch mcconnell agreed that this is the right thing to do for our democracy. a country faces few decisions as grave as using military force, even when that force is limited. i respect the views of those who
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call for caution, particularly as our country emerges from a time of war that i was elected in part to end. but if we really do want to turn away from taking appropriate action in the face of such an unspeakable outrage, then we must acknowledge the costs of doing nothing. here's my question for every member of congress and every member of the global community. what message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price? what's the purpose of the international system that we've built if a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the governments of 98% of the world's people and approved overwhelmingly by the congress of the united states is not enforced? make no mistake, this has implications beyond chemical warfare. if we want to enforce
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accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flog international rules, to governments who would choose to build nuclear arms, to terrorists who would spread biological weapons, to armies who carry out genocide? we cannot raise our children in a world where we will not follow through on the things we say, the accords we sign, the values that define us. so just as i will take this case to congress, i will also deliver this message to the world. while the u.n. investigation has some time to report on its findings, we will insist that an atrocity committed with chemical weapons is not simply investigated, it must be confronted. i don't expect every nation to agree with the decision we have made. privately, we have heard many expressions of support from our friends, but i will ask those who care about the writ of the international community to stand publicly behind our action.
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and finally, let me say this to the american people. i know well that we are weary of war. we ended one war in iraq, we're ending another in afghanistan, and the american people have the good sense to know we cannot resolve the underlying conflict in syria with our military. in that part of the world, there are ancient sectarian differences, and the hope of the arab spring have unleashed oceans of change that will take many years to resolve. that's why we're not confident putting our troops in the middle of someone else's war. instead we'll continue to support the syrian people in our pressure on the assad regime, our commitment to the opposition, our care for the displaced and our pursuit of a political resolution that achieves a government that respects the dignity of its people. but we are the united states of america. we cannot and must not turn a blind eye to what happened in
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damascus. out of the ashes of world war, we built an international order and enforced the rules that gave it meaning. we did so because we believe that the rights of individuals to live in peace and dignity depends on the responsibilities of nations. we are perfect, but this nation more than any other has been willing to meet those responsibilities. so all members of congress, of both parties, i ask you to take this vote for our national security. i am looking forward to the debate. in doing so, i ask you, members of congress, to consider that some things are more important than partisan differences or the politics of the moment. ultimately, this is not about who occupies this office at any given time, it's about who we are as a country. i believe that the people's representatives must be invested in what america does abroad. and now is the time to show the world that america keeps our commitments. we do what we say.
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and we lead with the belief that right makes might. not the other way around. we all know there are no easy options, but i wasn't elected to avoid hard decisions and neither were the members of the house and the senate. i've told you what i believe, that our security and our values demand that we cannot turn away from the massacre of countless civilians with chemical weapons. and our democracy is stronger when the president and the people's representatives stand together. i'm ready to act in the face of this outrage. today i'm asking congress to send a message to the world that we are ready to move forward together as one nation. thanks very much. >> will you strike if congress disapproves? >> so there he is, the president of the united states making it clear he has authorized the use of force in syria, but he's not going to go forward with that

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